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How to prepare mental health for a pandemic winter

Pandemic, winter impact on mental health
Posted at 10:15 PM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 23:15:47-04

APPLETON (NBC26) -- As temperatures drop, there's some concern of what winter during a pandemic could mean for mental health.

Studies have already linked the COVID-19 pandemic to a mental health crisis. A survey by the CDC shows 41 percent of respondents are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues related to the pandemic itself or coronavirus restrictions.

"No mental health gets better with social isolation," said Tina Lechnir, regional behavioral health director with Ascension NE Wisconsin.

Nearly one in every five adults in the U.S. live with mental illness. The same CDC survey reports people's symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders increased almost three times the amount between April and June from one year prior.

After about seven months of minimized interactions and more staying at home for work and school, the outdoors has become a coping mechanism for many. Once winter arrives that solace will be taken away.

"We are in a different time, and really this shadow pandemic of mental decompensation and uncertainty is looming," Lechnir said. "But that being said there are things we can do about it."

Lechnir said one of the most important things people can do this winter is keep connected with friends and family, even through virtual platforms. Eating healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, staying active and practicing relaxation techniques, like breathing exercises and meditation, is also recommended.

For parents worried about what to do with their kids, Lechnir said it's good to stay creative: Try virtual tours of museums, nature-themed scavenger hunts, crafts, games or indoor camping.

The unknown can add another layer of anxiety. Lechnir said talking about it can be a proactive way to get ahead of poor mental health.

"At the end of the day we need to simplify our lives, and listen to ourselves and listen to those who know us well," Lechnir said. "Just forecasting and having the daily dialogue about what maybe are hurdles coming in the future I think will help people quite a bit."

A survey by the Harris Poll shows that as a result of the pandemic, 52 percent of respondents feel more open to talking about mental health. Nearly 80 percent reported feeling mental and physical health are equally important, while 81 percent said it's more important than ever to make suicide prevention a national priority.